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Veterans bring to life late friend's vision of memorial sculpture on Hilton Head

From left, Bob Schweickart, Bill Mautz and Dan Huber, of the Long Cove Veterans Coalition, helped raise funds to have the sculpture Poppies installed at the Hilton Head Veteran's Park. The trio were photographed on Tuesday at Hilton Head Town Hall.
From left, Bob Schweickart, Bill Mautz and Dan Huber, of the Long Cove Veterans Coalition, helped raise funds to have the sculpture Poppies installed at the Hilton Head Veteran's Park. The trio were photographed on Tuesday at Hilton Head Town Hall. Staff photo

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Baker decided last year he would do whatever it took to get a special bronze sculpture placed at the entrance to the Shelter Cove Veterans Memorial on Hilton Head Island.

Jumping through town hoops to get the sculpture approved, raising the $65,000 the piece would cost -- none of it would stop Baker. He was determined.

Now his idea is becoming a reality, but the longtime Long Cove Club resident won't be there to see its dedication this Memorial Day.

Baker died in January. He was 71.

His vision lives on, though, carried by his friends and U.S. Army veterans Dan Huber and Biff Mautz. After Baker's death, they did not hesitate to pick up the torch and see their friend's vision through.

"It was a shock," Huber said. "We came right back and tried to help (his wife) Sheila. It was the least we could do to pick up the pieces of what Bill had initiated."

'POPPIES'

Last spring Baker was on the south end of Hilton Head and spotted a bronze sculpture of an older World War II veteran sitting on a bench, holding an American flag and traditional Memorial Day poppies in his hands.

The piece, called "Poppies," would be a perfect addition to the veterans memorial in Shelter Cove, if only he could find a way to get it there, he told Huber and Mautz.

"We thought it was a fabulous idea," Mautz said. "That statue was made to be in that park. It's like that sculptor, when he made it, was thinking of the veterans park only."

So Baker set off to find out more about the sculpture and met David Leahy, a partner at Morris & Whiteside Galleries, which has the piece at its Red Piano Gallery on Cordillo Parkway now.

Leahy agreed the piece would be well-suited for the memorial park, but he insisted the sculpture be bought and donated, he said. Donating the piece, instead of the gallery lending it for a time, would ensure it's there to stay, Leahy said.

The island's veterans coalition, including Baker, also had tried to secure the same piece for the memorial about three years ago but the plan had fallen apart when the coalition couldn't get the funding, Huber and Mautz said.

Baker was determined this effort would be different.

He had already started fundraising. He was also working with the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, which partners with the town to pick public art, to have the piece placed. Then he died.

To honor their friend's vision, Huber and Mautz jumped right back to fundraising among Long Cove Club's 73 resident veterans.

"That very day, at the funeral, we picked up the ball," Huber said. "We right from the start got a big contribution from Shelter Cove and (its developer) Mark Senn."

Long Cove veterans ultimately donated $48,000 to the $65,000 project, Mautz said. Shelter Cove Towne Centre will pick up the difference as its donation, Mautz and Huber said.

With that support, Huber pushed the idea through the municipal process and won the approval of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry's Public Art Fund Committee.

Town Council unanimously supported the project Tuesday, finally making Baker's initial vision real.

MEMORIAL DAY

"Poppies" will be dedicated at Shelter Cove in a ceremony during Hilton Head's Memorial Day celebrations May 25.

This spring, Leahy will take the 300-pound sculpture to Tallahassee, Fla., to be refurbished by its creator, artist and sculptor Sandy Proctor.

But "Poppies" isn't a memorial to Baker, said Huber and Mautz.

It's a memorial to veterans who served before him and a reminder to future generations of the sacrifices they made.

"This is going to be there forever," Huber said. "To me, this can be a vehicle for a future father or grandfather to sit with children and explain to them the history, that people made a big sacrifice for the country we live in."

That's exactly what Baker wanted, and he won't ever be far from that vision, Mautz said.

The veterans at Long Cove have donated money to create another memorial, just for Baker. In a separate ceremony this spring, they will affix a plaque with Baker's name on another granite bench -- overlooking "Poppies" -- to honor their late friend.

"He won't be with us on the dedication day, but he will be there in spirit," Leahy said. "Everybody knows this is what Bill really wanted, and, for me, it's just the neatest thing to see it all come together."

Follow reporter Zach Murdock on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach and on Facebook at facebook.com/IPBGZach.

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